So let’s talk about God.
I mean, He’s arguably the most important character in Big Love, even if we never directly see Him, even if we never are sure how He feels about the Henricksons. Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) is always so concerned about how the two of them are getting along that we are forced to take these sorts of things into account, even if we don’t particularly believe in God in any way, shape or form. Bill’s deteriorating relationship with his faith has provided a hidden spine to Big Love’s third season, and it finally erupts in tonight’s episode, in one of the all-time great television images to my mind.
Bill, having just traveled from Utah to upstate New York in the hopes of burying a time capsule in the soil where Joseph Smith found the gold tablets after being prompted by the angel Moroni, has realized just how little his family regards this whole odyssey, which Bill has managed to make central to his entire belief system. Bill’s faith, like his life in general, tends to be filled with little tasks designed to build up to a greater whole. Bill, abandoned by his family, who have all raced off to watch a pageant recreation of Moroni’s visitation to Smith, kneels in the green grass, turning his concerns skyward, asking God why He’s seemingly hiding from Bill, why his family seems to be falling apart. The camera dollies in on his face as he says this and then cuts to an evocative wide shot, Bill kneeling on the frame’s left, a medium distance from the camera, the pageant grounds rumbling to life with light and sound behind him. And then, an actor from the pageant, playing the part of Moroni, rises into the sky so high that he rises above the walls surrounding the pageant grounds. From our perspective, he seems to be blessing BILL, not Joseph Smith, offering Bill a path to find what he wants most. It’s a gorgeous shot, highly symbolic and yet somehow prosaic at the same time, and it feels almost like something out of Fellini.
And then, through unsettling means, God answers Bill’s prayers.
One of my favorite television scenes of all time is from the first season finale of Deadwood, “Sold Under Sin.” If you’ve never seen the series, all you need to know is that, throughout the first season, the character of Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) has been built up as both a fascinating self-made man and an adversary to the growing pressures of civilization, best represented by Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant). Throughout the first season, the town preacher (Ray McKinnon) has been increasingly descending into dementia, brought on by a brain tumor (and I haven’t seen this scene in some time and don’t happen to have my Deadwood DVDs by me at the moment, so if I’m getting the details wrong, feel free to correct me). As the doctor (Brad Dourif) works to save him, he comes to realize that his cause is hopeless. The preacher isn’t going to be saved by the crude medicine of the time, and, indeed, might not even have been saved by MODERN medicine. The doctor cries out to God, asking for Him to spare the preacher further pain. And at that very moment, Al Swearengen happens upon the struggling preacher and, moved, puts him out of his misery swiftly and quietly. God answers the doctor’s prayers, so far as the doctor is concerned, at least, but He does so through a very unusual instrument, through murder, through a mercy killing.
Deadwood argued that even if you didn’t believe in a higher power, just the very serendipity of being a human being, of living in a larger community, could occasionally take on the same effect as believing in God anyway. Big Love doesn’t go that far—the Henricksons are deliberately set apart from everyone else in their lives—but it does argue that the process of living in a family, especially a big one, is a lot like being a part of a religious congregation, and I’d say the final answer to Bill’s prayer in this episode comes close to matching the brilliant poetry of the Deadwood scene, especially as it digs into the messy faith of the man at Big Love’s center.
Television doesn’t do terribly well in portraying people of faith. To a real degree, this is a function of television being a mass medium and mass media wanting to do their best to keep their audiences as mass as possible, even in today’s age of niche markets. To some degree, this has to do with fundamentalist Christian and Mormon audiences in the U.S. being deeply suspicious of a pop culture that portrays them as buffoons more often than not. Indeed, a good number of evangelical Christians have embraced The Simpsons’ Ned Flanders, satirical warts and all, simply because he’s a nice guy trying to live up to his creed in a world that continually tests him. The Simpsons holds him up for laughter as often as it does any of its other characters, but because he’s not a hypocrite, because he cares about his kids and because he’s just trying to make his way in the world, a lot of Christians love the guy.
The Simpsons, though, has always been more nuanced about faith than most other shows, which use faith as a prop for the guest star of the week (too many episodes of C.S.I.), mock people of faith for believing at all (House) or toss faith in as an all-purpose character-building concept, to be discarded blithely when the storyline calls for it (Friday Night Lights’ Lyla comes to mind as a current example of this time-old TV technique). Worse, because of fears of boycotts from fundamentalists (as slew NBC’s short-lived The Book of Daniel) or Catholics (as ended ABC’s short-lived Nothing Sacred—seeing a pattern?), TV pastors, when they’re not blinding hypocrites, tend to be absolutely uninteresting saints. Think of that dude on 7th Heaven or any character in any Christian film ever produced (especially the recent, unremittingly awful Fireproof). There’s probably a fascinating series to be made about the pressures of being a modern-day pastor, but the entrenched positions on both sides of the divide mean this show will probably never be produced, even with more daring networks like HBO and AMC diving into the content-production world.
Well, I say all of that, but Big Love has pretty much just gone ahead and MADE a show about the struggles of having faith in the modern world and has done so in a largely respectful and fascinating way on the network you’d least expect to be interested in broadcasting the good, clean fun of living by a strict religious creed. Big Love’s occasionally anthropological feel—the series tends to shoot the religious ceremonies of the Henricksons as though it’s a National Geographic documentary—is often overwhelmed by the sheer compassion it feels for all of its characters (outside of, arguably, Roman Grant (Harry Dean Stanton), who seems to be viewed as venal and unsalvageable). There’s another scene in “Come, Ye Saints,” scripted by Melanie Marnich and directed by Dan Attias, that struck me silent with its beauty. Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin), reeling from the death of her mother and the revelation that Bill’s oldest son Ben (Douglas Smith) is in love with her, is destroyed when she accidentally leaves the urn carrying her mother’s ashes atop a car and then drives off, scattering the ashes to the wind. She finally seems to let loose some of the grief she’s been carrying, and then, Bill baptizes first wife Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn) in a hotel room hot tub as a proxy for Margene’s mother, ensuring that when Margene dies, her mother will be there waiting for her on the other side.
It would be easy to play this scene for goofy laughs (it IS a pretty weird concept), but Big Love plays it for every ounce of poignancy it can muster, from the look of comfort on Goodwin’s face to the cool lighting of the hotel room. “No soul is lost,” says Bill, and for an instant, Big Love strikes you with the sensation of why these people are in this seemingly unsustainable setup, of why anyone would want to be a part of a religious tradition seemingly at odds with the modern world. In the Henricksons’ creed, everyone has a place to belong, so long as they follow the rules.
But it’s the rules that always mess you up, isn’t it? And that brings us back to the end of the episode and the answer to Bill’s prayer. Bill’s daughter Sarah (Amanda Seyfried), you see, is pregnant. And she’s planning to keep the baby, drawing up a plan and slowly incorporating Ben and her friend Heather (Tina Majorino) into it. Granted, her plan is a bit too idealistic, but Sarah’s determination to make sure her baby is not raised by her polygamist parents OR an adoptive couple that would provide the baby with a strained upbringing (as with the man struggling not to be gay and his wife in the episode a couple of weeks ago) seems as though it would override most of the things life threw at her as a young single mother. Sarah has always been one of the strongest people in the series, so it’s easy to overestimate her maturity, and this episode served as a necessary reminder of just how young she really is. She gets excited when her dad, who doesn’t know about the pregnancy, promises her a special night out on the town in Chicago on the way back. She bristles at the involvement of her mom in her life. She can only keep quiet when her parents angrily yell at her about the birth control pills Barb found, knowing that they’re not HER pills, obviously, but also unable to correct them until Nicki (Chloë Sevigny) admits that they’re her pills, and the fury shifts to her. And then, at the end of the episode, immediately following Bill’s prayer, Sarah miscarries.
I normally hate miscarriages on TV (I railed against them in my latest BSG review) because they tend to be the easy way out of not dealing with adding a baby or the complications of an abortion or adoption to the storyline, but I thought the miscarriage was well-handled here, both for how seriously it was played by Seyfried, Sevigny, Tripplehorn and Paxton and for how complicated it makes the show’s issues of faith. Bill prays for God to make His presence felt in his life and for his family to be repaired, and Sarah’s miscarriage both draws the family together—after all, Nicki, who would seemingly be the least sympathetic to Sarah’s plight, is the first to learn of the miscarriage and also the most compassionate—and removes something that Bill would probably regard as a “problem” in his deepest heart of hearts (not that he would ever say that) when he found out about it. The sense of the gravity of the situation propels these final passages (mostly scored to the hymn “Softly and Tenderly”), but there’s also the weird sensation that Bill’s prayer HAS been answered there to keep you off-balance. It’s one of the subtlest portrayals of that old question of just how big a role God plays in the lives of His followers AND just how malicious He would be in doing so that I’ve seen in a filmed entertainment.
And, look, I’m out of space, and I’ve barely touched on anything else in the episode. “Come, Ye Saints” has a lot going on (most of the secrets the characters have been carrying around since season one—including Bill’s Viagra use and Nicki’s birth control pills—come out), but it never feels overstuffed as some other episodes have this season, perhaps because it doesn’t try to shove in a plot at the Juniper Creek compound. It moves with a calm grace of its own as the characters retrace the steps of their ancestors, chased across the country and into the wilderness by angry mobs aplenty. It’s a deeply moving tribute to the idea that a big family can be both a hindrance and, in times of trial, a salvation. It’s easily Big Love’s best episode ever, and, if we’re being honest, one of the best television episodes I’ve seen in a long, long time.
Some other thoughts:
1. Sorry for the lateness of this review. I’ve been battling a cold and the Oscars all weekend long, even as I really intended to have this up early, thanks to having seen the episode in advance. I hope the piece was worth the wait!
2. I think I could have written my whole review based entirely on who ends up riding with whom at the various stops on the Mormon Trail, including the stop where Bill is forgotten at a roadside picnic area. The way the episode shuffles its characters around from car to car to maximize dramatic potential is one of the things that makes it so good.
3. To a real degree, I was worried that the drama-addicted Big Love would have Margene take advantage of Ben’s feelings for her, but I was glad that the show didn’t go there, as she very clearly made explicit the lines that could not be crossed in their relationship. Big Love is addicted to dramatic complications, yes, but it holds its central family fairly sacred, and I think that’s one of the things that makes the show work as well as it does. I think James Poniewozik is also right when he says that the episode subtly shows how Margene having to deal with her mother at a young age gave her a degree of self-sufficiency that comes out when she has to deal with situations like this.
4. Nicki’s flirtation with Ray the DA, meanwhile, grows more and more worrying, as her giggly flirtations start to be obvious to even her. She buys Bill a cardigan, so he can look just like Ray, and she calls Wanda (Melora Walters) for advice. Wanda, true to form, offers up the line of the episode: “Has he chased you at night? Has he tried to put you in a trunk?” The show has stepped back a bit from Nicki in the last two episodes, but she had some fine moments tonight, and how the Ray story resolves itself is probably what most interests me for the next four episodes of the season. Sevigny is perfectly portraying the woozy uncertainty that comes from realizing that there are other things in your life than what you’ve built it up to be.
5. Bill Paxton gets ragged on a lot for the inconsistency of his performance from a lot of quarters, largely, I think, because Bill Henrickson can be such a cheerful asshole, but his work here was stellar, particularly in the episode’s final ten minutes, when he really made you feel for the poor bastard.
6. I have absolutely no idea why HBO scheduled new episodes of this up against the Super Bowl AND the Oscars (and both episodes were actually season highlights). I realize that the series airs four or five times per week, and a lot more people catch it that way than on Sunday nights, but that scheduling seems a little nuts.
7. I usually watch the week’s United States of Tara while I’m typing up these reviews, and I’m starting to regret only writing a review from seeing the pilot. The series still has a lot of problems, but it’s moved from the category of trying too hard to legitimately interesting over the past few weeks, and this week’s episode, which portrayed Tara (Toni Collette) trying to keep herself together while her passive-aggressive parents visited, was a genuine success. I’m pleased to see that this series, which stars a lot of actors I like and comes from writers I’m fond of as well, has turned out to be a grower. Even Big Love took a while to figure out what it was doing, so keep at it, Tara!
For more recaps of Big Love, click here.
Berlinale 2019: A Dog Called Money, Lemebel, & Searching Eva
Alongside fiction films depicting emerging voices, nine of the Panorma sidebar’s 45 features are documentaries about creative talents.
The ostensible goal of the Berlinale’s Panorama sidebar is to offer a 360-degree snapshot of the current state of world cinema, but this year its curators seem inordinately concerned with the pursuit of artistry. Alongside fiction films depicting emerging voices—Honor Swinton Byrne as a fledgling filmmaker in Joanna Hogg’s sublime The Souvenir, and Mei Kayama as a cartoonist with cerebral palsy in Hikari’s sweet-natured 37 Seconds—nine of the section’s 45 features are documentaries about creative talents.
Among these, A Dog Called Money is perhaps the most fascinating, albeit for all the wrong reasons. Directed by photographer Seamus Murphy, it charts the making of PJ Harvey’s 2016 album The Hope Six Demolition Project, which was directly inspired by trips the pair took to Afghanistan, Kosovo, and deprived neighborhoods of Washington, D.C. The famously publicity-shy Harvey then took the unlikely step of turning the recording process into an art installation, setting up a pop-up studio in London’s opulent Somerset House, and inviting members of the public to observe her at work through a one-way mirror.
Though the project appears to have been a noble attempt on Harvey’s part to broaden her political and cultural horizons, A Dog Called Money demystifies her creative process in a manner that proves extremely unflattering. Murphy presents the overseas excursions solely as material-gathering missions: We see Harvey exposed to human suffering in various guises, and hear her recite song lyrics that matter-of-factly recount her observations, but are offered no insight into her overarching aims for The Hope Six Demolition Project, and no sense of how these experiences may have affected her worldview.
There’s something strangely distasteful about the way Murphy juxtaposes haunting footage of Middle Eastern warzones and American ghettos with scenes of Harvey, safely cocooned in her sleek studio, joking around with her overwhelmingly white band as they endeavor to distill the world’s misery into a whimsical art project. And frustratingly, the film fails to address the controversy surrounding album opener “Community of Hope,” which describes Washington D.C.’s predominantly black Ward 7 as a “drug town” full of “zombies,” and which led to a local official ridiculously saying that Harvey is “to music what Piers Morgan is to cable news.”
Joanna Reposi Garibaldi’s Lemebel, which just won the Teddy Award for best queer-themed documentary, does a far better job of representing the aspirations and achievements of a politically motivated artist. The film explores the career of late Chilean writer and activist Pedro Lemebel, who spearheaded a public LGBT rights movement amid the hostile environment of Pinochet’s dictatorship. Weaving together evocative archive footage, intimate talking-head interviews, and grainy home movies, Garibaldi charts the formation of Lemebel’s provocative queer collective dubbed the Mares of the Apocalypse, his flair for attention-grabbing performance art, and his masterly manipulation of Chile’s mainstream media.
An erudite raconteur, Lemebel is fascinating when discussing the intersection of LGBT and working-class communities, and appears remarkably ahead of his time when explaining his rejection of the word “gay” and his reclamation of derogatory terms like “maricón.” Occasionally it seems that Garibaldi, who befriended Lemebel years before attempting to make the film, is a little too close to her subject to offer an objective portrait. She fails, for example, to interrogate Lemebel’s conspiratorial views about the origins of AIDS. But given the fearless, trailblazing nature of his work, a somewhat hagiographic approach can be forgiven.
Many would surely balk at the description of Eva Collè, an obscure twentysomething blogger and Instagrammer, as an “artist.” But her scattershot, disarmingly frank musings on Tumblr have inspired a formally ambitious documentary feature, Pia Hellenthal’s Searching Eva. The film delivers an impressionistic account of this nomadic young woman’s compellingly chaotic existence, encompassing her move from conservative small-town Italy to hedonistic Berlin, her professional experiences as a sex worker and fashion model, her embrace of sexual fluidity, and her struggles with drug use and mental illness.
To underscore the fact that Collè elects to live out her daily dramas before an enthralled online audience, the film is narrated by anonymous comments lifted directly from her blogs. But while said comments tend to be either blindly sycophantic or scathingly judgmental, Hellenthal delivers a refreshingly even-handed assessment of the benefits and drawbacks of online culture. Eva seems to derive much of her self-worth from the knowledge that she inspires others to be their authentic selves. And there’s a sense that the barrage of criticism she faces only strengthens her resolve to carve her own path through life.
Hellenthal’s perspective becomes much harder to fathom when she’s exploring Collè’s life philosophy, which seems to boil down to a flat rejection of any label you might try and attach to her. At one point, Eva states her intention never to work a conventional job, on the grounds that the working class must refuse to be defined primarily as a workforce in order to make its mark. But it’s unclear whether Hellenthal regards this as a bold political statement or the pseudointellectual ramblings of a self-involved millennial attempting to justify her decadent existence. Those who suspect the latter will likely have a hard time fully embracing Searching Eva, but its assured approach to nonlinear storytelling makes the journey worthwhile.
Berlinale runs from February 7—17.
Berlinale 2019: I Was at Home, But, So Long, My Son, and Ghost Town Anthology
These films depict in distinctive ways the process of coping with and even accepting the dead’s presence in our lives.
The dead haunt Berlin. The Martin-Gropius-Bau, the museum building in which the Berlinale’s European Film Market is hosted, is still pockmarked with bullet holes from the Battle of Berlin—as are many other buildings in the center of the city. A 10-minute walk north of Potsdamer Platz, the center of the film festival, is the powerful Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and a 10-minute walk in the opposite direction down Stresemannstraße and you’ll see the bombed-out façade of Anhalter Bahnhof, once one of Europe’s most resplendent train stations. And all over Berlin, you trip over Stolpersteine (or “stumble-stones”), small, square, brass plaques laid into the sidewalk bearing the names of former residents of that street, dispossessed and killed by the Nazis.
Like any city, Berlin is many things, and it’s certainly most known today for much more than its tragic past. But the history of the 20th century is in particular written across its face, and while it can be easy to turn your gaze away from the dead, they remain a part of life in Germany’s capital. Several of the best films up for the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale contemplate the persistence of the dead in the lives of the living, depicting in distinctive ways the process of coping with and even accepting this presence in our lives.
Set in Berlin, Angela Schanelec’s I Was at Home, But opens with an anomalous prologue that foreshadows the film’s equal-parts mix of despair and world weariness, of tragedy and banality. A dog excitedly chases a rabbit; the camera catches the rabbit initially running, and then seeming to give up, panting on a rock. In the next shot, the dog is greedily pulling apart the rabbit carcass in its den, a dilapidated building it appears to share with a donkey. It’s a potentially fruitful odd-couple scenario: You can almost read subdued exasperation in the donkey’s face as it ignores its roommate’s greedy consumption of a fellow herbivore.
What does this prologue have to do with the remainder of the film, which concerns a woman, Astrid (Maren Eggert), and her children’s flailing attempts to process the grief of losing their husband and father? This quietly masterful film never even comes close to connecting these threads for its audience, requiring us to make connections on our own. We’ll see a foot being bandaged, but not the event that caused the injury, and characters dancing to entertain someone in a hospital bed, but not the person in the bed. Elsewhere, a needlessly obstinate Astrid demands money back for a perfectly reparable bicycle she bought on the cheap, and middle-school kids perform Hamlet in the most neutral of ways.
These still, vignette-like scenes elliptically narrate Phillip’s (Jakob Lassalle) week-long disappearance and return. Infused with the profound pain of grief and with the consciousness that such pain is both inescapable and futile, a universal tragedy that has played out innumerable times, each scene in I Was at Home, But could stand on its own. Assembled together, they comprise a story told between the lines. When Astrid theatrically collapses in front of a headstone, lying silent and immobile like a stage corpse, we don’t need the camera to show us the name on the grave to let us know which tragedy she’s currently performing.
Wang Xiaoshuai’s So Long, My Son is a pointed critique of China’s one-child policy, which was relaxed in 2013. Cutting between at least four different periods in the life of a couple, Liyun and Yaojun (Mei Yong and Wang Jingchun), whose family is shattered over and over again—first with a forced abortion, then with the drowning death of their biological son, and finally when their adopted son absconds from their home—the film is a stark condemnation of an inhuman measure undertaken for the sake of the ultimately abandoned dream of a workers’ utopia. Surprising for a film produced in a country with heavy censorship, the story is explicit in its political and ethical concerns, demonstrating how China’s strict rules in the 1980s imposed unjust sacrifices on the country’s people only so, as one shot set in today’s Beijing suggests, shopping malls could be erected behind statues of Mao Zedong.
Mixing around the story’s timeline, Wang opens with the death of Liyun and Yaojun’s son, and flashes forward to their adopted son, also named Xingxing, fleeing home, so that Liyun’s coerced abortion feels like a third loss, even though it actually comes first. This captures something of the temporality of regret: The abortion, which Liyun was pressured into having by Haiyan (Haiyan Li), a close friend and local communist party functionary, is the decisive tragedy of their lives. Having been denied the choice of having a second child, Yaojun and Liyun’s repressed grief and self-imposed exile away from the pain of their old relations has excluded them from sharing in the winnings wrought by China’s rise.
The unhappy accidents, betrayals, and suppressed resentment that make up the story could easily lend themselves to overwrought, melodramatic treatment, but Wang’s dedication to the details of Chinese working-class life grounds the film in a reality unmarked by melodrama’s hazy-eyed stylizations. Fine leading performances by Wang and Yong capture the simmering sadness of a life whose fulfillment was precluded by an overbearing ideology. So Long, My Son runs a bit long, piling a few too many poetic parallelisms into a protracted conclusion, but it’s a precisely constructed, deeply felt, and humane drama.
The wackiest of the competition’s films that contemplate loss is Denis Côté’s Ghost Town Anthology, which sees the Quebecois director returning to his favored rural Canadian terrain with an ensemble cast. Shot on grainy 16mm, and somewhat resembling a ‘70s-era drive-in cheapie, the film remixes the iconography of ghost stories and post-apocalyptic thrillers to narrate its characters’ collective confrontation with death.
A town of 215 residents somewhere in Francophone Canada is rocked by what their imperious mayor calls “our first death in a long time,” the presumed suicide-by-car-crash of the 21-year-old Simon Dubé. That Simon’s death is the first in a long time raises a couple of questions about the dreary and desolate village: Where are the old people and, for that matter, where are the children? Côté shows us some children, but they’re strange, impish creatures who wear clay masks and heavy ponchos, and they appear to live in the surrounding woods. When Simon’s car crashes, they play amid the wreckage; later, they chase the frightful, innocent Adele (Larissa Corriveau) into an abandoned garage, backed this time by a group of adults who stand silently behind them in the snow, simply staring forward.
It turns out that the dead are returning but not exactly back to life; this isn’t George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and the ghostly figures who begin sprouting from the snowy landscape don’t do much of anything but stand and blankly stare. The villagers, accustomed to a life close to outsiders—Côté makes his point clear when a hijab-draped official sent by the government to consult with the mayor elicits cool, suspicious stares from the denizens—are forced by the dead’s mere presence to confront what lies beyond their provincial life. “They’re like us, in a way,” one character muses toward the end of Ghost Town Anthology, a belated realization that the radical difference of death is also a commonality.
Berlinale runs from February 7—17.
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Film Editing
Sigh, can we just edit this whole Oscar season from our memories?
Sigh, can we just edit this whole Oscar season from our memories? AMPAS has officially brought more queens back from the brink than this year’s season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars. Now that the academy has reneged on its plans to snip four categories from the live Oscar telecast, after first attempting damage control and assuring members that it will still run those four awards as not-so-instant replays in edited-down form later on in the show, we can once again turn our attention to the other editing that’s so vexed Film Twitter this Oscar season. We yield the floor to Twitter user Pramit Chatterjee:
People, actual fucking people, are watching scene after scene like this and are saying “bruuuh! best. movie. of. the. year”?
This is objectively bad. Someone with no idea about editing will notice it. My brain is on fire thinking that this is an OSCAR NOMINATED MOVIE! FUCK! pic.twitter.com/QVDCxe2iaf
— Pramit Chatterjee 🌈 (@pramitheus) January 26, 2019
Very fuck! The academy would’ve been shooting itself in the foot by not airing what’s starting to feel like one of this year’s most competitive Oscar categories—a category that seems like it’s at the center of ground zero for the voters who, as a fresh New York Times survey of anonymous Oscar ballots confirms, are as unashamedly entertained by a blockbuster that critics called utterly worthless as they are feeling vengeful against those who would dare call a film they loved racist. Interestingly enough, the New York Times’s panel of voters seems palpably aware that Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman is the nominee this year that’s going to go down in history as the “right thing” they’ll be embarrassed for not “doing.” No arguments from this corner. Lee’s film is narratively propulsive and knotty in ways that ought to translate into a no-brainer win here. (My cohort Ed recently mused that he’d give the film the Oscar just for the energy it displays cutting back and forth during phone conversations.)
We’re glad that the academy walked back its decision to not honor two of the most crucial elements of the medium (editing and cinematography) on the live Oscar telecast, but what we’re left with is the dawning horror that the formless flailing exemplified by the clip above might actually win this damned award. Guy Lodge sarcastically mused on the upside of Pramit’s incredulous tweet, “I’ve never seen so many people on Twitter discussing the art of film editing before,” and honestly, it does feel like Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody getting publicly dog-walked like this stands to teach baby cinephiles-in-training the language of the cut as well as any of the myriad montages the show producers intended on airing in lieu of, you know, actually awarding craftspeople. But only a fraction of the voting body has to feel sympathy for John Ottman (whose career, for the record, goes all the way back with Bryan Singer), or express admiration that he managed to assemble the raw materials from a legendarily chaotic project into an international blockbuster. The rest of the academy has their ostrich heads plunged far enough into the sand to take care of the rest.
Will Win: Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody
Could Win: BlacKkKlansman
Should Win: BlacKkKlansman